Mike Sanford fired after 3-9 season

WKU head football head coach Mike Sanford calls instructions to players as they warm up before the Red vs. White game in Houchens-Smith Stadium on Saturday, April 21. “This is just the beginning of our journey,” Sanford said after the game.

Jeremy Chisenhall

WKU has fired head football coach Mike Sanford after two years, the program announced Sunday.

Sanford posted a 9-16 record as the Hilltoppers’ head coach, including a 3-9 season in 2018, the Hilltoppers’ first losing season since 2010. 

“[Sanford] gave our program everything he had, was very dedicated to WKU football from day one, very passionate about being a Hilltopper, and did everything he could on behalf of our program,” athletic director Todd Stewart said. “But at this point, after two years, I just felt we were in a position that we had to go in a different direction.”

Stewart also confirmed that two other staff members, including running backs coach Mike Sanford Sr., had been fired as well.

WKU closed the year with back-to-back wins over Texas-El Paso and Louisiana Tech after starting 1-9, but it wasn’t enough. 

“We’re proud of the fact we won the last two games…and certainly that helped,” Stewart said. “But I just think that, you know, you have to be careful making a snap judgment on a limited sample size and letting emotion play into it.”

“As we continue to elevate WKU’s instructional and inquiry missions, the same expectation for excellence extends to our athletics programs as well,” President Timothy Caboni said in a press release. “In consulting with Director of Athletics Stewart, I agree that for us to achieve the success we expect in WKU football, it is time to make a leadership change. Mike Sanford is a man of character, and we appreciate his service to our community.”

In Sanford’s first season, the Hilltoppers regressed from their 11-3 record and Conference USA Championship victory in 2016 to a 6-7 record that featured a 27-17 loss to Georgia State in the Cure Bowl. 

“That was a really disappointing performance, I mean we really as a team lacked energy,” Stewart said. “Felt like Georgia State, honestly wanted the game more than we did. And that was disappointing because we had a lot at stake.”

Sanford’s contract buyout is $1.2 million, which the school will now owe him after the firing. Stewart said that money will come from buyouts that WKU has been rewarded after the departures of Bobby Petrino, Jeff Brohm and Michelle Clark-Heard. 

“It’s certainly a costly move,” Stewart said. “The good thing is, while we’re not happy about this outcome, we’re really 3-1 in terms of these because we’ve been on the plus side three other times.”

Sports Editor Jeremy Chisenhall can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @JSChisenhall.